Members Also Hear Introduction of Agenda Items on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, Peacekeeping Review, Palestine Refugees
Holding a virtual meeting today, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard introductory statements and questions relating to international cooperation on the peaceful uses of outer space, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and peacekeeping operations. It also heard an introductory statement on questions relating to information.
International Cooperation on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
MARIUS-IOAN PISO (Romania), Chair of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, said restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the institution of written procedures that resulted in a document containing the Outer Space Committee’s decisions and actions and its Legal Subcommittee. In addition, its Scientific and Technical Subcommittee held its fifty-seventh session in February, shortly before Austria put a pandemic lockdown in place and was able to successfully fulfil its agenda. He went on to report that, in 2019, the Outer Space Committee adopted the preamble and 21 guidelines for the long-term sustainability of outer space activities, an important instrument for fostering the safety of space operations.
He went on to say that the Outer Space Committee is also advancing the development of a new “Space2030” agenda and implementation plan with the objective of maximizing the benefits of space activities for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Despite the pandemic, space activities continued, including missions to Mars launched by various space stations and a solar orbiting mission launched by the European Space Agency, he recalled. Pointing out that space actors and industrial players played a key role in managing the COVID-19 crisis through satellite infrastructure and specific technological capabilities, he said space applications are substantially facilitating the present economic and societal challenges resulting from the pandemic.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
PHILIPPE LAZZARINI, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), introduced his annual report (document A/75/13), stressing that, six months into his tenure and into the coronavirus pandemic, the Agency’s priority remains to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring that its critical services continue uninterrupted. He emphasized: “The agility and ability of UNRWA to adjust the way it operates in response to COVID-19 almost overnight truly impressed me: UNRWA staff shifted to telemedicine, to home delivery of emergency food and medicine, and to distance learning.”
He went on to report that the total number of Palestine refugees infected has surged from fewer than 200 cases in July to more than 10,000 last week. Beyond the health crisis, COVID-19 is also unleashing a brutal pandemic of abject poverty that is making Palestine refugees feel hopeless, he noted, warning: “Despair is a threat to peace and stability.” Addressing this requires a predictable and stable UNRWA that contributes to a sense of normality, if only through the consistent delivery of critical services, he stressed. Health and education are fundamental human rights and basic pillars of a dignified life, he added, describing them as being amongst UNRWA’s flagship programmes. However, rising poverty is leading a growing number of refugees to rely solely on the Agency’s services, he said, underlining that maintaining quality services requires adequate resources.
Describing the core programme budget as the Agency’s backbone, he reported that its funding gap today is $130 million. UNRWA is appealing for support for its COVID-19 response, he said, adding that it also needs $40 million to sustain its humanitarian operations, including food and cash assistance for more than 1.4 million conflict-affected refugees coming from Syria or living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Today, $15 million of that amount is urgently required to sustain the food pipeline in Gaza for more than 1 million refugees, he said, adding that his priority now is to raise the necessary funds to sustain all our essential services.
Failing to raise the necessary funds will impact both the salaries of 28,000 staff and the delivery of critical services, including the schooling of more than half a million girls and boys, he continued. “Such a situation will force me to revert back to you for advice on which parts of the UNRWA mandate to prioritize.” The Agency’s programme budget expenditures are predictable, but funding has constantly been unpredictable, with no visibility beyond a few weeks, he noted, emphasizing: “This is unsustainable.” Unpredictable funding results in constant cash‑flow crises and structural underfunding, he said, urging agreement among Member States to provide the level of resources required to support full implementation of the UNRWA mandate and to increase the predictability of resources through multi-year financing. He said that, in turn, he is committed to developing and submitting a longer-term strategy for the Agency, with a multi-year budget.
Israel’s representative said that UNRWA perpetuates the Israel-Palestinians conflict by inflating the number of Palestine refugees and inciting violence, hatred and anti-Semitism through education. Peace between the two sides is possible, but there must be reconciliation and mutual recognition of existence, he emphasized, describing the denial of Israel’s right to exist as an obstacle to a solution. Hamas uses UNRWA’s school facilities to launch rockets, underground tunnels are found on school premises, and history textbooks teach hatred and anti‑Semitism, he added, asking the Commissioner-General how to ensure that school infrastructure is not used for such purposes. How does the Agency vet educational content?, he asked.
An observer for the State of Palestine said UNRWA makes tangible contributions towards ending the conflict, rejecting Israel’s claim that the Agency perpetuates the conflict. Expressing appreciation to UNRWA staff for continuing to deliver essential services to the 5.6 million registered refugees, she said that, despite restrictions due to COVID-19, the Agency has adjusted its responses and continued its operations, “a commendable feat”. Many recognize UNRWA’s delivery of humanitarian services as exemplary, she added. Citing the considerable funding gap and regional volatility, she asked the Commissioner‑General how to ensure the well-being of Palestinians and address the sense of despair and abandonment among their youth. She also asked whether the Agency seeks a larger share of the United Nations budget for more predictable funding.
The European Union’s representative noted that the bloc is the largest contributor to UNRWA, shouldering 60 per cent of its total budget, and will remain a staunch supporter, both politically and financially. He called upon all donors to make multi-year pledges.
Mr. LAZZARINI said he has been in the humanitarian and development business for 30 years, but has never seen an organization that invests in neutrality and impartiality as much as UNRWA. It is probably the most scrutinized agency and therefore is on the edge of the curve in providing aid. He went on to emphasize that there is “absolutely no space in our schools” for hatred, intolerance and anti-Semitism. Assessment of textbooks is under way, with the help of the European Union, he said, adding that he looks forward to recommendations. UNRWA is probably the only organization that has dedicated neutrality officers, he said, noting the Agency’s positive contributions to the broader stability of the region. It is struggling to make ends meet, he said, asking donors to step up. No Palestine refugees want to remain refugees, he added.
Norway’s representative, speaking in her capacity as Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, said the pandemic and the resulting global economic downturn have exacerbated the Agency’s financial instability, citing the $200 million budget shortfall. She went on to call upon the international community to ensure that UNRWA can continue to meet the growing needs of the refugee population and upon all States to increase and sustain voluntary contributions to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. Contributions should reflect appropriate international burden-sharing and should be disbursed early in the year, she emphasized.
Comprehensive Review of Peacekeeping Operations
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said the Action for Peacekeeping agenda provides a road map for peacekeeping activities in the face of new challenges, adding that, in response to COVID-19, his Department has taken stringent measures to protect personnel, contain the spread of the virus and support national authorities in their responses. Those measures, in addition to in-field testing, have helped to contain the spread of the virus to relatively low levels, he noted.
Despite pandemic-related restrictions, he continued, peace missions continue to implement their mandates through innovative measures that ensure effectiveness, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur and Mali. Partnership with the African Union is a key part of the Department’s engagement. In Sudan, for example, the African Union and the United Nations are working together to explore options for civilians after the exit of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).
Highlighting actions taken to enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers, he said the number of fatalities has decreased steadily over the last three years. A number of missions have implemented force adjustments to ensure the flexibility and effectiveness of operations and the adaptation plan for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is currently under way. In addition, pre-deployment online learning programmes and remote training for new field mission staff have been created, he said, cautioning, however, that, while currently necessary, those learning systems have limitations. Increasing the role of women is another key dimension of improving the effectiveness of peacekeeping, he said, adding that, as such, his Department continues to increase gender parity among personnel.
ATUL KHARE, Under‑Secretary‑General for Operational Support, said that his Department, in cooperation with the Department of Peace Operations, has put measures in place to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19 among peacekeeping personnel, including a temporary suspension of peacekeeper rotations and stringent conditions to ensure the safety and security of uniformed personnel. Other measures include predeployment training on COVID-19, a 14-day quarantine in their respective home countries, and adherence to social distancing measures upon deployment. The Department also continues to make progress on implementing the Action for Peacekeeping commitments, he said.
Enhancing the nature and quality of support provided to field missions is not only about enabling mandate implementation, but also about improving the ability of missions to respond punctually to challenges on the ground, he continued, emphasizing that the delegation of authority to senior mission leadership remains a critical aspect of the process. The Department rolled out the Resource Management for Certifying Officers online course, reuniting five functional areas covering financial management, travel, procurement, hiring of consultants and trust funds, he said, recalling that, in April, it also launched “Knowledge Gateway” — available in several multimedia formats and multiple languages — to make guidance and best practices accessible.
The Uniformed Capabilities Support Division continues to ensure the expeditious transmission of all memorandums of understanding to respective troop- and police-contributing countries for signature, he continued. The Department has continued to streamline the processes for death and disability compensation. Currently, half of the claims for deaths are paid within 90 days, down from 170 days in February 2018, he pointed out. Emphasizing that every peacekeeper’s death is one too many, he said timely access to life-saving medical support remains a crucial aspect of preventing the loss of life. Since March, the Department has established seven additional stand-by air ambulance contracts, bringing the total number up to nine.
As of early October, he noted, 11 COVID-ready air ambulance operators have been technically cleared to support the Organization’s aviation medical evacuation response. The Department is currently working on a Medical Performance Framework that includes early medical planning to ensure that the right medical facilities are in place from the onset of operations. The Department is improving camp security and early warning systems, he said, citing recently launched competitive international bids for long-range sensors and cameras. They will improve situational awareness and warn peacekeepers of incoming artillery, as well as rockets, mortars and mini-unmanned aerial vehicles, improving intelligence, surveillance and recognizance around camps.
That process resulted in three commercial contracts for off-the-shelf technologies and services, including training, he said, adding that his Department will be redoubling support to help missions establish fit-for-purpose waste-management systems and comprehensive waste-management plans and strategies, which enable proper liquidation. It is also looking to reduce demand for energy and increase the use of renewables. To reach those ambitious objectives, all Member States should fulfil their commitment to deploy environmentally responsible solutions for all operations, he urged.
MARTHA HELENA LOPEZ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources, highlighted some actions taken by the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance to support peacekeeping. Concerning performance and accountability, the Department launched the Senior Leadership Support Programme, providing new senior leaders with induction, peer partnering, team building and executive coaching, she said. It is now piloting the Agile Performance Management system, which aims to create a culture focused on dialogue among managers, staff and peers. It will enable managers and staff to proactively address underperformance issues.
In 2020, the system has been rolled out to three peacekeeping operations in Cyprus, South Sudan and Mali, she continued, adding that Umoja modules have been enhanced to help missions continuously monitor their performance. The Umoja end‑to-end solution for the Uniformed Capabilities Management system, which includes payments to troop- and police-contributing countries, was also made available for all peacekeeping missions during the 2019-2020 financial period, she said, adding that strategic business data have been made available to peacekeeping missions through the Management Dashboard, in priority areas like performance, resource utilization and human resources. To ensure that peacekeeping operations are properly resourced, the Department continues to work with peacekeeping leadership to develop strategic and realistic financing proposals that afford field missions every opportunity to deliver on their mandates.
She went on to note that the Field Operations Finance Division consistently communicates with missions on budget formulation and on key developments, achievements, and challenges to successfully carry out mission mandates. Conduct and discipline remain a foundational element of Action for Peacekeeping, which stresses the importance of accountability at all levels, whether leadership, Member States or individual personnel. Emphasizing that recent allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against civilian staff members and humanitarian workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo raise the alarm for all in United Nations peacekeeping and throughout the Secretariat, she said the Department is supporting the Office of the Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations response to sexual exploitation and abuse, in her task of strengthening the Secretary-General’s strategic efforts to implement the zero-tolerance policy. The Department continues to support the Organization’s efforts on gender parity and equality, including in peacekeeping missions, by introducing targeted measures, mainstreaming gender into talent‑management initiatives, and leading policy changes.
Questions Relating to Information
MELISSA FLEMING, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, said the COVID-19 crisis struck just as her Department began to roll out its first‑ever global communications strategy, a new kind of blueprint that details an audience‑focused, data-driven and coordinated approach while emphasizing hope and solutions to major global challenges. The pandemic propelled the Department to apply the new strategy sooner than planned and to pivot immediately to putting crisis-communications mechanisms in place and combating the tidal wave of misinformation threatening to undermine the global response to the health crisis.
In that effort, she continued, the Department teamed up with the social mobilization organization Purpose to launch the Verified initiative, enlisting the help of 40,000 information volunteers to share compelling and factual science‑based content with their friends, families and contacts. United Nations information centres are also actively translating and amplifying Verified messaging that they have tailored to their local audiences, she said. The campaign’s content is increasingly focused on building greater confidence in vaccines and advocating for a “people’s vaccine”, she added. The Department will launch the second iteration of Pause, an activation that encourages the public to hesitate before sharing potentially harmful content on social media.
Turing to the high-level General Assembly period, she said a comprehensive media kit containing key messages, objectives and expected outcomes for all the high-level events was distributed to journalists, United Nations system communicators and other stakeholders. Early statistics show at least 6.2 million views on the flagship United Nations channel on YouTube during that period and un.org audiences increased compared to 2019. She went on to report on communication efforts relating to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the SDG Media Compact partnership with members including Sky News, Nigeria’s Channels TV and Japan’s Asahi Satellite Broadcasting to air the Nations United broadcast. She went on to highlight the Department’s youth engagement initiative and its renewed push for the ActNow campaign on climate change. Amidst travel restrictions, the Department changed the formats of regular programmes, like the Reham Al-Farra Journalism Fellowship, whereby a series of briefings, interviews and other virtual interactions were organized to enable alumni to report on the high-level week. Additionally, a new book, Achieving Our Common Humanity: Celebrating Global Cooperation through the United Nations, portrays the transformative impact that multilateralism can have, she said. The book can be freely downloaded from the Yearbook of the United Nations website and is also available on the Organization’s iLibrary and in print on its e-commerce site, she added.
Also speaking today were representatives of Morocco, Sudan and Chile.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 14 October, for its joint general debate on all agenda items.